Chilliwack dairy farm workers speak out after shocking video released
Darcy Wintonyk, CTV Vancouver
Published Tuesday, June 10, 2014 8:00AM PDT
Last Updated Wednesday, June 11, 2014 8:29AM PDT
Some of the workers who were at a Chilliwack dairy farm when a disturbing video of animal abuse was shot are giving their side of the story to CTV News.
Eight Chilliwack Cattle Sales employees have been accused in connection with the footage, which shows cows being whipped, punched and stomped.
All the workers were fired Monday and could still face Criminal Code charges.
One of them, Jamie Visser, admitted the conduct captured on video was out of line but said management was aware at least some of it was happening.
“I wouldn’t say they should be completely shocked. They knew about 80 per cent of what was going on,” Visser told CTV News.
“We’re not there to actually abuse the animals, we’re just trying – we’re there to get the job done. It’s not like we’re meaning to do all this stuff, we’re just trying to get the job done.”
Another employee under fire, Travis Keefer, said striking the cows hard was “a last resort.”
“In some cases it got pretty serious, which was too far but I was not a part of that,” Keefer said.
Chilliwack Cattle Sales has promised to take action to ensure the abuse caught on camera never happens again at the farm.
The company has hired a public relations firm and on Tuesday showed media their property, providing access to everything from the birthing area for cows to the milking parlour. A security company was also on site preparing to install video cameras to monitor the animals’ care at all times, and which may be viewable by the public.
The dairy farm is Canada's largest, and home to more than 3,500 animals.
Undercover video shot over four weeks in May by a member of the animal rights group Mercy for Animals shows shocking incidents of abuse on cows, including animals that were downed and trapped and unable to escape.
Mercy for Animals director of advocacy Anna Pippus called the attitude of the workers “chilling” and “totally sadistic.”
The BC SPCA is recommended animal cruelty charges against the eight workers seen in the video.
In response to the scandal, the farm says it is installing closed-circuit cameras and is working with the animal welfare group to enhance its employee training.
The Kooyman family, who owns Chilliwack Cattles Sales, is “fully cooperating” with the investigation.
Jeff Kooyman told CTV News his family was shocked to see the footage and said it does not reflect the standard of care for its animals on the farm.
Meanwhile, Saputo – Canada’s largest dairy producer, which sells milk from the Chilliwack farm – said it was “outraged” by the video.
“We do not condone any form of animal cruelty and we expect milk producers to adopt proper animal care methods at all times,” a statement from the company read.
Saputo said it fully supports an investigation into the farm, but it’s unable to select the farms where it gets its milk because of B.C. legislation.
Dairy processors are required to purchase their milk through the BC Milk Marketing Board.
Mercy for Animals is calling on Saputo, which owns Dairyland, to introduce animal welfare guidelines that would include a zero tolerance policy for kicking, punching and beating cows, and introduce procedures to ensure proper care and transportation for sick, injured or downed animals.
“The cows on this dairy factory farm experience nothing but fear, violence, and deprivation at the hands of sadistic animal abusers,” Pippus said.
She said the investigation proves that the Canadian dairy industry isn't capable of self-regulation. It wants the government to step in and create standards to protect farmed animals.
"Dairyland has the power to end the worst forms of animal cruelty and needless violence in Canada," she said. "As a civilized society it is our moral obligation to prevent the abuse of all animals, including farm animals."
The chairman of the B.C. Dairy Association, Dave Taylor, said the Chilliwack cow abuse is a black mark on the industry.
The head of the Dairy Farmers of Canada, Wally Smith, also spoke out, saying he felt disgusted about the animal abuse caught on tape at the Fraser Valley farm.
Mercy for Animals said it chose the Chilliwack, B.C., completely at random.
Anna Pippus said the probe at the Chilliwack Cattle Company is evidence that animal abuse “runs rampant in the dairy industry.”
“Every time we’ve gone undercover at random facilities we’ve documented animal cruelty that has shocked and horrified the Canadian public,” she said. “This isn’t a coincidence.”
Farm investigations by Mercy for Animals have led to dozens of animal cruelty charges across the U.S.
Mercy for Animals Canada hidden-camera footage of “shocking animal cruelty” at two Alberta egg factories that was shown on CTV’s W5 last fall led to a widespread investigation into industry practices.
“We will continue to go undercover while factory farmers don’t know they’re being watched,” Pippus said.
Former abuse allegations
This isn’t the first time Chilliwack Cattle Sales has come under fire for allegations of animal mistreatment.
In 2008, federal inspectors found that six cows were being transported from B.C. to Alberta despite a variety of injuries, including large wounds, weeping joints, necrotic tissues and acute mastitis.
B.C. Supreme Court documents reveal that the animals were emaciated and dehydrated.
Prosecutors charged the company and its president with violations of the health of animals act. A BC Supreme Court judge agreed the animals injured but found the company and its president not guilty.
Leanne McConnachie of the Vancouver Humane Society said there’s “no excuse” for animal mistreatment, and that more enforcement is needed to protect farm animals.
“With no enforcement and no monitoring anything can happen behind closed doors and clearly that’s what’s happening. The abuse will continue,” she told CTV News.